Tool Shops – The sustainable way to create social change

Britain faces a crisis of opportunity. Too many people do not have the capability to fulfil their potential. Too much talent and potential is going to waste as too many people find themselves trapped in a deepening cycle of low expectations, minimal opportunities and increasing dependency. This is a difficult and complex problem, but one that we can all help solve.

However, one thing is certain. We will never create sustainable social change if we continue to act as if there were two different kinds of people: those that know what is best for others and those that can be treated as problems to be solved. Building sustainable social change relies on accepting both that we are all different and that we share a common nature.

Diversity is the core strength of any community. We cannot possibly know what is best for each other because each and every one of us has a unique set of experiences and capabilities. However, we do share a common nature and we can, and must, learn from each other. Trying to change without each other is as useless as trying to change others. We can only change together.

The key to unlocking human potential is creativity. If we want to fulfil our potential as individuals, organisations or communities then we must all be prepared to explore our own creativity, to embrace our vulnerabilities and engage with our own potential. We cannot create social change unless we are prepared to change ourselves.

art does indeed have the power to transform both our lives and our communities but there is only so much any of us can do by ourselves. Just as the real value of learning is becoming aware of how much more you don’t know, so with social action, the more you do, the more you realise how much more needs doing. Tough problems like dependence and social exclusion require a broader, more concerted commitment than any one individual or organisation can provide.

We need a long-term approach. Short-term projects often raise expectations that they can’t fulfil and throw light on problems they cannot resolve but the real problem with projects is their lack of context – that they are isolated activities. However, when what we do takes place in the context of our long-term development then every little helps because real development is a long-term (and incremental) process.

It is this long-term context that is missing from our isolated attempts to create broader social change. We need a sustainability service that can provide that context for each other. Then every little thing we do can help towards our long-term development as communities as well as individuals.

art + power is uniquely placed to fill this gap because it is a not-for-profit society that anyone can join and because it has a long-term strategy to build communities where everybody has the capability to fulfil their potential. It’s a big vision, one that it cannot deliver! This vision can only be realised by the shared and concerted efforts of a wide range of people.

So we networks of people that use the arts for sustainable social change. The true value of the arts is that it fosters sustainable development and social justice. Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. The reason that art should never be seen as a luxury for the privileged few but as the birthright of every one of us is because it is by building our creative capabilities that we all fulfil our potential.

Capabilities are the building blocks of all human development. They are the tools that enable us all to live increasingly independent, purposeful and creative lives. Capability building is an equal, open and collaborative process by which we all support each other to fulfil our potential. Every time we do something new we build our own capabilities and we can also provide opportunities for others to build theirs. Every activity can become an opportunity for collaborative capability building.

This is what we hope to achieve with our plans for community tool shops. a range of spaces in the community where people can support each other to fulfil our creative potential. We want to see Tool Shops in lots of different spaces – cafés, galleries, community centres etc – so that everyone – and particularly disabled and socially excluded people – can help build more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities.

If you’d like to explore what a Tool Shop could look like in your community do get in touch – or better still come along to: The Tool Shop.

Tool Shops, like art + power, will be what you make it. We can’t make change for you and we can’t do it without you. Sustainable change is not something you do to others, or without others, it is something we can only create together by striving to become the people we want to be and build the communities we can be proud to live in.

Creativity is essential to the business of living. We are all unfinished business, but creativity, inclusion and sustainable development are the essential principles that underpin all meaningful development. So, please help us start the conversation about Tool Shops in your community – the sustainable way to create social change!

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Sounds like a plan

If we want to build social justice we need to find out what will help people to actively engage with their own unique creative potential. What is it that makes the difference between allowing life to happen to us or being active agents in our lives?

I suggest the first thing is to be active and start to do something about it. One of the reasons we recommend creative challenges is because you can be active straight away and every action you take opens up new possibilities for you, helping you to find out what you want to do and find ways to make things happen.

Secondly, I think it really helps to be working towards something. Even the most difficult situations feel a little better if you have a plan. A plan can help us see beyond a difficult situation that may threaten to overwhelm us and help us take a long term view – after all no matter how long you’ve been in the same position you haven’t always been there and you won’t always be there in the future.

What ever you are doing now it will feel better if you have a plan. But it must be your plan, for your own development, not just to please anyone else (an employer, relative etc), and it must be realistic. There’s nothing to be gained by kidding yourself. It important to start with an honest reflection of what your are doing now.

I’m not suggesting that you can miraculously change the circumstances you are in but a plan can help make the best of them and, if you know you are doing the best you can in the circumstances, it may not feel so overwhelming.

Your plan does not have to be particularly cunning or complicated  in fact the best plans are usually quite simple affairs. See if you can put it onto one page, even the most complex plan can be summarised on one page. Here’s a powerful tool that proves this point: The Business Canvas.

Your plan should not be something set in stone but something you take with you, and frequently revisit and revise as you start collecting capabilities. We’ll be exploring some challenges that will help with this but, in the meantime here’s a final thought: there is always room for improvement. Few of us are lucky enough to have your dream job already. However, you can have the ‘best job in the world’ right now if you decide to make it your job to be the best you can be.

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Sharing tools for change and one to get you started.

A social justice network is a group of people who support each other to be positive, to celebrate our achievements and learn from our experience.  I’m particularly interested in the tools we use to engage with this process. It seems to me that it is important to have some physical record of what we’ve done and of what we plan to do both so that we can maintain our own practice and so that we can collaborate with others.

Developing and sharing these tools will be the key focus of my work over the next couple of years as I put together a ‘guide to creative capability development’ and I would like your help. It would be great if you could let me know what works for you and help develop and test some tools that we can share.

I’m keen to develop tools that can be used by a wide range of people to foster diverse and creative collaborations. The tools will help us adopt a developmental approach to our practice, and support each other to build our mutual capabilities through networks and creative collaborations.

I hope people will use the tools to create some exciting artistic projects and strategic initiatives but my personal emphasis will be on sharing what we learn from the process to inspire further development.

For example, it will help us to feel that we have started this process if we do something physical, so here is a simple tool consisting of just five questions that can help our both our individual and collective development.

What are you hoping to achieve?
What are you working for now?
What can you offer to the network?
What are you looking for from the network?
What will you do next?

You can start this process right now by sharing your answers to these questions.
If you don’t have time to do all five, I suggest you answer the last question – what is your creative challenge?

This doesn’t have to be a big step, I actually think that most meaningful change is both long term and incremental so I would recommend you think of one small action that would make you feel you’ve started the journey.

It can help to tell someone what you’re doing – you can share that here if you like – or better still why not set up your own social justice network and support each other to answer the five questions, or simply take the next small step towards our long-term development?



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A developmental approach to build capability.

Arts in Development supports people to use a developmental approach to build our capabilities as individuals, groups and communities.

We use a range of development approaches but all involve a virtuous cycle that helps us learn from our experience. For example, we provide resources for people to collaborate and then we share what we learn to improve the resources for future collaborations.

The development cycles we use involve balancing three processes: research, delivery and sustainable development. We use this cycle across each period (day, week, month etc) to plan, deliver and sustain our practice.

Here’s how we will use this cycle in the year ahead:

From May 2014 we will set a daily creative challenge related to a specific capability in one of the three development areas. Each challenge will also be the focus of peer-support forums during which people will work through the three development areas over a 12-week cycle to develop and deliver individual and collaborative projects.

Weeks 1 – 4: Reflect.

Initially we research and explore our practice so we can all work out what we are trying to achieve and consider how building our capability can provide opportunities for others.

Weeks 5 – 8: Deliver

Once everyone has an idea of what people are looking for we can design and deliver collaborative projects that build each other’s capability, these projects build social justice through equal creative collaborations where everyone benefits.

Weeks 9 – 12: Sustain

Finally we support each other to maintain and sustain our practice. Our shared focus is on recording and sharing our progress to produce inspiring resources we can use for the next stage of the cycle.

We will repeat this cycle several times so that we can develop a comprehensive creative development programme that people anywhere can adopt and adapt for their individual and collective development.

Of course, people do not need to take the challenges in this order, or use these specific challenges at all. Creative development is a self-directed process that is different for everyone. People can start whenever they like and contribute as much as they choose.
However everything people do share will help create further resources including a ‘guide to creative capability development’ and an inclusive community arts project.

This is how we will build social justice –  by supporting each other to adopt a developmental approach that builds our individual and collective capability. Why not join us?

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Organising your social justice network

Here is an example format that you might like to use as a starting point for a social justice network or peer support group. I use and adapt this format for all the forums I facilitate. I’ve also used it to structure the news I share between networks as this makes it easier for people for people with very different backgrounds to collaborate and build social justice together.

The format is based on a simple peer-support process:

Present – one person presents their work and any challenges they face
Clarify – people ask questions to clarify the challenge these are answered in turn
Suggest – each person then makes a suggestion which the the person presenting listens to
Respond – the person presenting then responds to the suggestions and indicates what they will do next as a result.

This process can be repeated in turn in a small group so that everyone gets to present their issue or used to structure a seminar into a specific issue.

Here’s how we use it in our peer support forums:

I allow people some reflection time at the start of the session to identify any news they want to share – any achievements, stories and useful information – and to think about what they would like to work on together.

Each person then presents their news in turn, identifies a potential discussion point and answers questions from the group to help them clarify the issue.

We then introduce a shared ‘creative challenge’ we have prepared for each forum. We may also have a short presentation by one of the group about their practice, something that inspires them or a shared issue they wish to discuss.

Once we have all done this we split into smaller groups or even pairs so that people can suggest how we could make progress on any of the issues that have arisen or the shared creative challenge. Each pair or group can use this same format to discuss their challenge (present, clarify, suggest, respond).

Finally we come back together to respond to what we have learnt and to identify an individual and a shared creative challenge that we can all work on before we meet next.

Of course, you do not have to use this format, the most important thing is for you to find a format that works for you – and if you find a better one, or have any suggestions, do let me know – but you may find this a useful starting point.

I look forward to hearing how you get on

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Create Your Own Social Justice Network

We can only build social justice if we are willing to engage with our own potential. This can be a daunting prospect but, fortunately, it’s not something that can be done alone. Social justice is something we build together, simply, by supporting each other. One easy way to do this is to find a few friends or peers and support each other – to create your own social justice network.

Social justice networks are people who take an interest in each other’s progress and support each other to stay positive and engaged. You do not need to know what you want to achieve before you start. Over time, participating will help you identify goals and develop projects, but this is a long-term process and, to start with at least, it’s more about keeping positive and moving in the right direction.

Every network is different, some are formal gatherings with regular meetings, other just the occasional catch up in a cafe or pub. One thing I do recommend is that you end with each person saying what they will do next (their creative challenge) and start with sharing how you got on with your last challenge.

You might like to try this approach at your book club or alternatively you might choose one of the following;

  • meet together to visit and discuss exhibitions, performances or talks
  • hold ‘art-crit’ sessions to share your practice and give each other feedback
  • meet to make and create together or share the things that inspire you
  • work on a creative challenge together

Whatever format you choose do let us know how you get on as everything we share can help to inspire and support the rest of the network. We will put together regular newsletters to share the latest creative challenges and news and opportunities from each of the networks. In this way we can build a growing network of people that support each other to fulfil our potential as individuals, groups and communities.

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